Few players around the NBA could generate as much excitement about a possible-yet-unlikely conference finals return as Golden State Warriors guard Gary Payton II. Of course, Payton’s incredible evolution from hoops vagabond to lockdown ace, throwdown machine and fan favorite for a title-contending team puts him in rarefied air.
His absence looms larger and larger as the Warriors draw closer to realizing their championship goal, too.
Without question, Payton’s story has been one of the highlights of the 2021-22 campaign. Not only for Dub Nation, but for fans in every corner of the basketball globe. And while his unique skill set, bulldog mentality and Hall of Fame genes all played a part in getting him to where he is today, Payton has definitely gotten some help in locking down his spot.
For his part, Warriors star Stephen Curry has been determined to prevent the 29-year-old from getting away.
Steph ‘Demanding’ That the Dubs Keep Payton
Before Payton became one of the Association’s ultimate breakout ballers, he was famously cut by the Warriors after the team’s final preseason game. However, as revealed in his Players’ Tribune article on Friday, Payton decided to remain in the Bay Area and continue to work with the team in hopes of a second chance.
Clearly, the move paid off as he got his spot to start the year. That said, there had been at least some question in the early going about whether his contract would be guaranteed and, even now, a level of uncertainty about his future remains. Steph is doing his part to keep him right where he is, though.
Payton has so harassed him during practice with his suffocating defense that the superstar wants zero part of seeing him as an opponent. And he has apparently made as much clear to Warriors GM Bob Myers.
“Every day it was like, ‘I’m guarding Steph. Gimme Steph. 30, please.’ Every damn day. That was my thing. Not even a question. It was: 1) Walk into the gym. 2) Guard Steph. And with those matchups, I mean … he’s one of the best ever to do it. So, you know, sometimes he’d get me. But I made sure it was never easy. I’d guard him just like I do everyone else — I’d use my hands, I’d bump him, I’d irritate him. And sometimes I’d get him. We’ve both won our fair share of battles.
“I always tell Steph, I tease him now, like: ‘Don’t ever let me change uniforms down the line and come get you. Don’t let that happen.’ He just laughs. He plays along, though, too. We’ll see Bob Myers at the practice facility, and Steph will be like, ‘Don’t let that man go nowhere and have him guarding me in games. I don’t need that, Bob.’”
He’s not wrong.
The latest Golden State Warriors news straight to your inbox! Heavy on Warriors newsletter here!
Payton Isn’t Sweating His Injury
Although incurring a devastating injury during one’s first major playoff run might be enough to break a lesser player, Payton is taking the Zen approach to his current situation.
“I had a lot of people pissed on my behalf,” he wrote of the injury, which occurred as a result of a flagrant foul by Grizzlies wing Dillon Brooks. “And I love them for that. But I was good.
“I kept trying to tell everyone: You know who I am, right? It’s like … out for three to five weeks? Come on now. I’ve been through way worse than that as a basketball player. I’ve been scrapping for six years trying to break into the league. So a few weeks was never going to get me down.”